Estes Park, a small mountain town at the mouth of the Rocky Mountain National Park, is a major tourist destination in the summer. But what many visitors—and locals—don't realize is that Estes is one of Colorado's best winter excursions, too.
Forget what you think you know about Estes Park. Here are four new ways to experience Estes—in the winter.
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Explore in the Snow
Estes Park may not have its own ski resort, but don't let that deter you from planning a winter vacation here. You can still get outside, active, and in the snow.
The Rocky Mountain Conservancy organizes many outdoor, educational activities, including a Winter Ecology Snowshoe Trek through Rocky Mountain National Park or along the nearby trails. A great region to explore is near the Wild Basin area, where you can venture through the forests, covered in pristine white powder, and witness the otherwise untouched wilderness of Colorado's winter wonderland. Wild Basin is also a popular destination for weddings and receptions; if you're planning a winter wonderland vacation, keep this in mind.
Snowshoeing through this forest in the winter is like walking on water—except that water is frozen and white and fluffy.
The trained guides will teach you about the snow and how plants and animals survive in the winter.
The four-hour snowshoe hike is family-friendly, too. Dress in layers, as the weather can be unpredictable, but prepare yourself for a much more personalized, quiet hiking experience than you could ever find in this area in the summer. (Estes gets pretty packed when the weather warms up.) It's like you have Colorado all to yourself.
Want to explore on your own? Get a pass to the national park and bring your snowshoes up to Bear Lake, which can be 25 to 45 minutes past Estes Park, depending on the conditions. A hike around Bear Lake provides flat, easy trails, or you can continue up to Nymph, Dream or Emerald lakes. All of these destinations are incredible.
Tip: Bear Lake can be pretty crowded, even in the winter, so leave early to find parking—or stop at one of the trailheads along the way. Our favorite easy snowshoeing stop is Sprague Lake.
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Sip Award-Winning Wine
Estes Park is historically known for its saltwater taffy and wolf T-shirts, but the modern town has evolved into something much more. In fact, there's a real element of luxury to explore in Estes Park that many travelers overlook.
Plan a wine-tasting at the Snowy Peaks Winery. This winery is family-friendly and will even serve your kids locally made juice variations (cherry, blackberry, peach) in fancy glasses, so they can join in on the fun. After they're done, send them to the separate kids play area, so you can sit back and enjoy another glass of your favorite from your sampling.
Wine samples are served on a fun, metal, glass-holding tree, and furniture is made out of recycled wine barrels. Out front, the fence is made out of recycled wine bottles. For more entertainment, there is a great selection of old-school games to play, or sign up for a wine-and-paint class.
If you're lucky, you might get a tour of the basement, where all wine is made—right in house. Fun fact: A single glass of wine contains nearly 700 grapes, and at Snowy Peaks, they're all hand-squished and individually stomped. The bottles are also hand filled, labeled and corked. A ton of work goes into each glass, which will make you appreciate your next sip more.
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Enjoy Dinner With a View
Downtown Estes Park may be packed with pizza and burgers, but that's not the extent of what this town offers for foodies.
First of all, the You Need Pie cafe (yup, that's its real name) claims to have won honors for the state's best pie. It also has a build-your-own breakfast burrito option with green chili that alone is worth the drive to Estes Park.
For lunch, Scratch Deli's sandwiches are robust and can fill up even the hungriest of snowshoers. The housemade pastrami is the best bet, hands down.
For dinner, The View Restaurant at the Historic Crags Lodge serves the town's top food with the best view—sweeping windows overlooking the whole glowing town. The menu is expertly crafted by local chef Shad Theroux.
The lodge itself opened in 1914 as the third oldest lodge in Estes, and the founder was the brother of Enos Mills, the "father" of Rocky Mountain National Park. It has deep and significant ties to the area. Plus, the food beats anything you can find on the main drag.
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Stay in a Condo Close to Town
The Stanley Hotel is the most famous lodging in Estes Park, but for something different and much closer to town, stay at the newest lodging option: Fall River Village.
These high-end condos are a short walking distance to downtown and only a few miles from the entrance to the Rocky Mountain National Park.
Fall River Village features two-bedroom, two-bath condos with fully equipped kitchens, living rooms (with a fireplace) and dining areas. It pays attention to the details that make a difference, like memory foam mattresses (even on the hide-a-bed couch), stainless steel appliances, a full-sized fridge, and jetted bathtubs. Request a room with the beautiful Fall River right outside your door, which you can watch from the walk-out patio or from a nearby fire pit and grill.
In the winter, it's too cold to use the property's hammocks and swimming pool, but you'll love the hot tub, right next to a fire pit where you can grill up s'mores—goodies included with your stay.
These spacious condos are more private than a hotel room, and the staff here go out of their way to accommodate any special requests.